Ashley Young: not always diving. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
England are an average side firmly ensconced in the second tier of the world game and no longer a force where and when it matters. And they will be there for some considerable time. To think otherwise is delusion.
So says Phil McNulty in his blog about England's performance against Montenegro yesterday. So says everyone who has watched England play over the past year--at least, everyone who has been paying attention. Wayne Rooney's lack of form, the absence of creativity in central midfield, the absolute rubbish play of Glen Johnson at 'right-back': these are just a few reasons that England sit second in Group G in Euro 2012 qualifying.
It would be a stretch far beyond even the most devoted Aston Villa fan's imagination to suggest that England's greatest hope lies in the wings. England has much more to fix, and as was demonstrated yesterday, simply playing two quality wingers was enough to make up for the squad's deficiencies. Still, the play of Adam Johnson and Ashley Young did at least draw the eye when nothing else on the pitch did.
Unfortunately, much of Ashley Young's play yesterday will be obscured by the fantastic dive he committed in the penalty area. A obvious sign of frustration, given that Montenegrin players were tackling Ash right and left. Given the scoreline and England's inability to create chances, I can see why he thought going to ground might be a good option. But Young could certainly suffer from such a play. Already not one of Fabio Capello's darlings, the attention focused on his dive could obscure the positives he brought to the team.
Among those positives were his speed, of course. Adam Johnson and Ashley Young were put on the flanks to open up space, and that mission was accomplished more often than not. The fact that three Montenegrin players were booked in last-ditch attempts to stop him speaks volumes. Villa fans have all seen the move that inevitably leads to an Ash goal should he not be stopped--crouching run, beating the defenders, perfectly positioned for his sweet shot--and then whoosh, tackle. The defenders knew the danger before them.
It's time for Ashley Young to pick himself up, shake off the dust and retire his diving boots. Should he continue to put in excellent performances for Villa, he'll find himself included in the next round of Euro qualification.